Didgeridoo Design, Make and Play
Select a good piece of timber to make your didge.
Make the right choice in selecting the timber to make your didgeridoo to help reduce the risk of problems later on and to produce a top quaslity musical instrument.
What type of wood to select and use?
How to Make a Wooden Didgeridoo
Part 2 - Selecting Timber
The easy answer is just about anything. All woods have different characteristics, some are better for this, some are better for that. More often than not it comes down to what is available and what your personal preferences are.
I started out thinking I wanted to make a didgeridoo out of every type of wood that I could my hands on, then that way I could make my own mind as to what I liked. I also wanted to use local grown timber where possible, from indigenous and established species, such as Yew, Ash, and Oak etc.
Wood is most commonly cut, felled and managed during the winter months as the trees are dormant. Not least of which it is far easier to assess a piece of timber if it is not covered in leaves. If you want to make a number of didgeridoo's, experiment, or obtain specific wood be prepared to have a little patience. For example, Yew wood is scarce, not least of which when it is available it is sought after by any number of different craftsmen, so when an opportunity arose for me to help someone clear two trees, I ended up with half a dozen pieces in my shed. May take a couple of years or more to season enough, but I have them and that's what counts.
When purchasing logs, timber etc. be careful not to buy based on weight. If the wood is fresh cut or unseasoned it will be significantly heavier. Buy by volume and try to determine when the timber was felled.
Condition of the Wood
This will also vary and is dependent on many factors. I have used Sweet chestnut from the same place in the same wood, cut at the same time, but the quality was completely different. One had lay across another and was sound, and well seasoned. Another piece had been lying on the ground and was rotten, not only with fungi but also burrowing insects. Another piece appeared fine but the wood was soft and I didn't find out until I had started to remove the bark and shape it.
Don't be put off by what may appear to be disease or fungi. There are many types, white rot, brown rot, etc, however some fungi only affects the colour and texture of the wood, NOT the strength. Often you will find wood that has lines or patterns on it, frequently running up and down the length of the wood. This is commonly referred to as 'spalting'. Spalting in wood can be an extremely attractive feature and utilised to show the wood off, as in these examples of Silver Birch I have used.
A major consideration is how dry the wood is, namely, how seasoned it is. I have written a page on this providing more information. Working with wood that is fresh or recently cut makes the process more difficult as the wood may warp, twist, split and crack while drying out, and this is due to the amount of water and sap still within the body of the timber. Suffice to say that trying to source wood that is already seasoned is far easier than having to store and season the wood yourself. Not only that but seasoned wood is significantly lighter!
The ends of the pieces of timber are also cut at an angle. If you think that as the wood has grown, it has suffered stress. Stress from other limbs extending from it, gravity pulling on the tree covered in leaves and so on. The wood is strong enough to overcome these issues but if cut straight across its width, then all the tension is in one place. By cutting at an angle, there is less stress in one place on the wood, so therefore less chance of splits as the wood dries.
For normal sized pieces of wood used to make didgeridoo's, I have found that left to air dry for 1-1½yrs from being cut, and kept in a dry environment, usually sufficient to be dry enough to use.
I always try to allow for splits cracks, the odd hiccup so select wood that is approx 6'-6'6" (up to 2m) long with a diameter up to 10" (approx 250mm). If I lose a few inches each end and have to thin the stick down across its girth I still have a sound piece of wood. I had several pieces of wood that ended up being discarded because by the time I had removed the bark, and started to shape, I realised the finished product would be to thin to reproduce a good sound. I try to think I can always trim the wood down but it is difficult to stick it back on.
When selecting your wood, think of the finished didgeridoo. When I am looking for suitable pieces, I HAVE to be able to envisage the finished shape of the didgeridoo in my minds eye before I'll even consider it. Check for any obvious imperfections, for example, a piece of Silver Birch I dragged back to my car one day had to be left behind, due to a great big cut ¾" up the length of it that I had not spotted earlier.
Also consider how you will use the features of the wood. For example, Yew wood has a very deep coloured heartwood and light coloured sap wood and the contrast of the two on didgeridoo's is amazing. What other's consider defects or imperfections, maybe attractive features of the wood. For example, knots in the wood can be cut flush or left protruding to add character.
Think about the grain of the wood and how you will cut and hollow the wood. Is it stressed in any way?
I store my wood in a garage, leaving the bark ON. I coat the top and bottom face with PVA glue. This creates a synthetic bark and prevents moisture evaporating from the ends to quickly. Not doing so increases the risk of the wood splitting (as I know to my cost ((several times!)).